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Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23), guard Nick Emery (4) and guard Connor Harding (44) sit on the bench as the BYU Cougars and San Diego Toreros play in WCC tournament action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 9, 2019. San Diego won 80-57. (Scott Winterton, Deseret News)
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Cougars Should End Their Season If They Don’t Make NIT

Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23), guard Nick Emery (4) and guard Connor Harding (44) sit on the bench as the BYU Cougars and San Diego Toreros play in WCC tournament action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 9, 2019. San Diego won 80-57. (Scott Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – BYU head coach Dave Rose and athletic director Tom Holmoe may have a difficult choice to make in the wake of the Cougars’ embarrassing loss in the West Coast Conference tournament. After one of the worst losses in school history, their hopes of getting into the NCAA or NIT tournaments may be dashed.

The 23-point difference in the final score of their loss to San Diego doesn’t tell the full story. The Toreros came out strong Saturday night, jumping to a 13-0 lead before Yoeli Childs finally got BYU on the scoreboard – 5 minutes and 36 seconds into the game.

They went into halftime down 46-19 – the 5th largest deficit in BYU basketball history. Although they outscored San Diego by four in the second half when the game was already decided, BYU was down by as many as 44 points.

It wasn’t just that game. With the second seed in the conference tournament within their grasp, the Cougs gave up a 14-point lead over San Francisco at the Marriott Center after failing to score during a four-minute stretch.

At 19-13, this may be the first year BYU has failed to reach 20 wins in the Dave Rose era, breaking a record of 13-straight seasons.

Having failed to make a splash during the regular season, the WCC tournament was their chance to prove they deserved to be in a post-season tournament.

NIT Invitation Isn’t Guaranteed

With the NCAA Tournament completely out of the question, the Cougars will have to wait and see if the National Invitational Tournament will take a chance on them to extend their postseason.

The NIT works this way: schools who won their regular season conference title, but did not end up winning their conference tournament or securing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, are automatically given an invite to the NIT. It’s not yet clear who is going where.

The Cougars don’t qualify for an automatic invite, so they’ll be at the mercy of the NIT’s selection committee to receive an at-large bid to the “Little Dance.”

It’s not a bad thing to end up in the NIT. Utah went last season and ended up as the tournament’s runner-up. At the time, the Utes’ head coach Larry Krystkowiak remarked on what a huge advantage it was for his program’s growth to have more even time together to practice and play. It may have been just coach-speak, but still.

BYU played in the NIT last season as a 6-seed, getting eliminated by 3-seed Stanford in the first round. They also played in the NIT in 2016-2017, when as the 3-seed themselves, they were upset by 6-seed UT Arlington at the Marriott Center.

The Cougars did have an exciting run in the 2015-2016 NIT, winning three games before being eliminated by Valparaiso at Madison Square Gardens after the Crusaders scored a go-ahead 3-pointer with 20 seconds left.

BYU had their chance to move on to the title game, but a last-second shot from beyond the arc to win the game from Chase Fischer was blocked, ending their hopes of hanging a third NIT Championship banner in Provo. The Cougs also won the tournament in 1951 and 1966 when the NIT had more meaning.

While the NIT is definitely not the Big Dance, it’s still a lot of fun for players and fans. One advantage that the NIT has over the NCAA Tournament is that the games are played in the participating schools’ arenas all the way up to the semifinals and finals in New York City.

If BYU gets into the NIT, there’s a chance that the Cougars could play a couple more games in front of their home crowd, extending the streak of 20-game seasons and securing Dave Rose his 200th win at the Marriott Center.

CBI, CIT, Or Stay Home?

If the NIT passes on BYU, the program will likely have to decide whether or not to join a much lesser tournament – either the CBI (College Basketball Invitational) or CIT (CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament).

If going to either of those tournaments is their only option, the Cougars’ choice should be to stay home and end what was an up-and-down season.

What is to be gained by playing in a much lesser tournament? Would there really be any motivation in winning either the CBI or CIT, other than to secure the 20th win this year for Rose?

Of 351 Division 1 men’s basketball teams, 68 get into the NCAA Tournament, 32 get into the NIT, 16 are expected to fill the CBI, and 20 or so play in the CIT.

The Cougars would essentially be playing for the right to claim their place as the 100th or so best program in the country.

Then what?

In the best case scenario, it’s hard to imagine that hoisting a CIT Championship banner inside the Marriott Center would instill much pride in the hearts of the BYU faithful. More than likely, it would stand as a reminder of a dismal year full of unmet potential.

For a program that had won 20 games for 13-straight seasons, it would be an embarrassment to be fighting for such a mediocre title.

Pay-to-Play Tournaments

It’s important to know that for a program to enter either the CBI or CIT there is an entry fee – $30,000 for the CIT and $50,000 for the CBI.

Following the Cougars’ blowout loss to San Diego in Las Vegas, Rose spoke to the media saying that he and the administration would have to have a conversation about whether the team should continue playing.

It may be painful to end the season just shy of 20 wins. The team has showed flashes of greatness throughout the year, and fans would love to see star center Yoeil Childs at the Marriott one last time, considering he may choose to go pro over the summer.

Despite all that, the conversation between Rose and the administration should be short one.

If the NIT doesn’t come calling, the Cougars should pack it up and call it a year.

There’s always next season.